Sunday, December 9, 2012

Valve HAS Beaten AMD To The Punch

It's been seven months since I said that AMD should make a video game system. That recommendation still stands for the reasons I adumbrated in the linked article. And while previously it was simply a rumor, it is a rumor no longer. Valve will be making its own video game system. AMD is quickly losing the opportunity to create something that it could ride into a profitable new business.

The current state of the video game industry essentially demanded that this happen. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony are all bloated messes who are more interested in squeezing profits from old business models than in providing value in new and innovative ways. Every year, we get hardware that costs the same and does the same, and yet another iteration of Call of Duty. Yay. I don't know about you, but that gets my blood flowin'.

I harp on this because I have a soft spot in my heart for AMD. I've only owned a single Intel processor in my life: a Pentium III 800Mhz that I overclocked to 1Ghz. Every other processor has been AMD, going all the way back to a K5 100Mhz... I get all weepy-eyed thinking about that hardware... sigh.

They're the little guy, the underdog. I want them to succeed in the face of Intel's dominance. There is a nascent market here waiting to be exploited! Do it, AMD! The cell phone market is lost to you. The server market is lost to you. Even the laptop market is lost to you. Concentrate on this for now. Find your feet and dominate a new-born market before trying to attack others.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tips For Designing Your Own Logo And Brand

Sometimes, paying someone to make a good logo for you just isn't in the budget. While a person who specializes in this sort of thing (*points at self*) knows all of the ins and outs of getting the job done well, if you are willing to spend some time, you can create a pretty good logo and brand yourself. I cannot direct you through the entire process in a single blog post. Hell, I doubt I could do it with an entire book... there's an idea... regardless, moving on!

There are a few key areas where people designing their own brand frequently fail, and I can provide some tips on how to best avoid these pitfalls. I also hope that I can instill some of the heuristics — the rules of thumb, if you will — that I have picked up over the years to better allow you to critique your own work, and thus guaranteeing a better result.

When designing your logo.

Don't be literal: The worst thing that you can do in a logo is be literal. For example, if you are a cafe, you do not want a coffee cup or coffee bean in your logo. It has been done past to death. It is undead at this point and is lumbering around attacking and infecting other logos.

There are an endless number of provisos and corollaries that go along with that maxim, and I again would need an entire book to get into them. While a literal logo can indeed look good and be memorable, I would still recommend avoiding literal interpretations. It is the first step on a journey toward a boring, cliched, and derivative image that won't stick in people's minds.

Literal or not, the point of a logo is to be a unique and memorable face for your company.

Be Inventive: Try using imagery that communicates something intangible about your cafe. This process lays down the roadway to wild and interesting ideas for how to communicate your name and brand.

For example, you want to project an easy, relaxed atmosphere: use a sunset, a pillow, a strawberry dipped in whipped cream. Or perhaps you want to communicate high-technology; use a stylized robot, arc lamp, or geometric shape.

A word of warning here is that there are certain images that are cliche, and these are heavily based on where you live. Some are cliche compliments of a grander cultural zeitgeist. So for the Western World, these would be atoms, lasers, sex, and any other number of images that are widely seen and used.

The cliches can also be very local. For example, I live in Rhode Island, the Ocean State; images of waves, anchors, and boats are on everything.

That's not to say that you can't use these images with a unique interpretation —  perhaps a highly-stylized image of an anchor or wave. A boring concept, uniquely implemented can work very well.

In the end, it is a judgment call that you will have to make. The most important thing is for the logo to be unique and identifiable. If this involves a cliched concept, that's alright.

As you can see above, the second logo is still an anchor, but it's a stylized take on the image that is not likely to be in use anywhere else. (Oh, and a side tip: when choosing your font, avoid the standard fonts like Times, Arial, and the like. Either draw your own typeface, or search for "free fonts" or "open source fonts" and try to find something that fits and is not overused.)

My best recommendation for someone coming anew to this endeavor is, and I apologize because this concept is just so damned buzz-wordy, try a mind map. Basically, you start with a single concept in the middle of the map, and then draw connected concepts outward on splitting branches, like a family tree. A less buzz-wordy way to say it is that you are creating a visual representation of a brain storm.

Once you have your brain storm visualized, draw, draw, draw, draw. Fill a good ten to twenty pages with different interpretations of the words that you've mapped out. Channel your best Salvadore Dali and Pablo Picasso when drawing. Be crazy. It's the only way to unlock ideas.

Be simple. Be bold: As you can see in my Anchor Consulting example, I took the basic shape and created something very bold and simple. Not simplistic, just simple. It's a shape that could be shrunk down to a 20x20 pixel block and still be identifiable.

Avoid details. People operate best with gross characteristics. If there are too many details, more brain power is required to analyze and process it all. A good logo requires little brainpower to recognize and store.

Get the software: One of the first things people in the design world learn are the pieces of software that will be necessary. Simply knowing this gives you a powerful one-up on companies that don't know.

Since you don't have an existing workflow or team with which you must work, you're free to use whichever program best suits your needs. For me — perhaps because it is the best tool, perhaps because I have simply been using it for years — Fireworks by Adobe is the tool that I use the most. In the world of graphics programs, it's pretty cheap, with upgrades costing only $150 and full versions ringing up at $300. That might seem pretty high until you realize that Photoshop and Illustrator cost $700 and $600. Corel Draw, the "bargain" of the industry, is $500.

You're probably thinking "Good God! These products are ridiculously-priced!" And you'd be right! Adobe products are overpriced. Like, really overpriced. Few other companies out there have a customer base where the customers love the product but hate the company quite as much as with Adobe. The fact that their products are so damned full of bugs, Fireworks especially, doesn't help.

So it is without hesitation that I recommend some free, open-source options. For image editing, use GIMP. It is a replacement for Photoshop in that it is primarily used for editing image maps and digital painting. It's missing many of the toys that Photoshop and Corel have, but not too many. And for the purposes of a simple logo and branding effort, you would never use these tools anyhow.

The second tool is Inkscape. This program is for creating vectors. The difference between a vector and an image map is how it is "drawn" by the computer. An image map is simply a file that tells the computer which pixels are filled and with what color. A vector is two points that are connected by a line that "exists" behind the pixels, so the computer displays whatever pixels are in front of this line. This line can be curved or straight or all zig-zaggy. For an artist, this is a useful tool because she can create two points, connect them with the line, and then bend and flex that line however she sees fit. There is no need to erase a mistake. I like to look at it as sculpting a two-dimensional statue.

Most logos are created with vectors since they provide crisp, strong, well-defined lines that are easily identifiable at all sizes. For this reason, the most important program to learn is Inkscape. There are multiple how-to's available on YouTube to get you on your way.

Compare and Contrast: You can intuitively build up many tools for creating a logo by simply taking what you are working on and comparing it to other great logos and brands. Analyze how they are integrated in with packaging, printing, and advertising. Analyze their color choices and shapes. Hold up your work next to Coca-Cola, Apple, Gap, or Saks Fifth Avenue. Strive for the polish and refinement that is apparent in these pieces of work. And don't give your work a pass because you feel a connection with it!

Show your work to friends and relatives. Get feedback. Demand feedback. Tell them to be as critical as possible. Tell them to rip your work apart. Getting other people's opinions of your work will do two things: it will directly alter your work, and it will also provide you with more critical tools and concepts to criticize yourself later on.

Compliments of the crush of advertising and marketing that we face every day, the majority of people can make pretty good intuitive judgments about whether a brand looks "good" and "professional" and if that impression makes them want to take a chance with a particular company's products. Apply this intuition to yourself. Imagine yourself as a random person wandering by and seeing your sign; would you walk in?

When designing your brand.

Be adventurous with your name: If you haven't already named your business, name it something unexpected and unique. Again, if you are a cafe, name it "Into River Lethe" cafe, symbolizing that customers forget all their troubles when sitting in your lounge area. I just pulled that out of my proverbial butt, but you get the idea. Do not be traditional in your naming. If people are scanning through a telephone book (some people still use them), would your name stand out enough to cause people to try your company before others? Would the name of your company on a sign trigger curiosity in those driving or walking by?

There are certain words that you want to avoid, though, and these should be apparent to you. They are words that have been wildly overused for any application. Do not make a "house" or a "shack" or a "hut." Pizza Hut succeeded in spite of its awful name. Do not choose common edgy descriptors like "atomic," or "extreme." And simply having the word "reliable" in your name does not cause people to think of you as more reliable than another company without it. Use descriptors that are uncommon. Hit up a dictionary and thesaurus  You'll thank me, and Noah Webster, for it.

If you have already named your business but are not yet open, take this chance to re-name it. Be exciting and adventurous! You want your name to be completely different from every other business in your industry for five-hundred miles.

If you have already named your business and it is a boring name, like "Stacy's Cafe," or something like that, first, consider re-branding yourself. Take it as an opportunity to take into account your knowledge of your customer base and how your own desires for the business have grown. A re-brand can be a great opportunity to energize your business by generating interest in something that is new.

If you have already named your business and do not want to change it, then skip to step 2.

Think about "personality": A brand is a package of intangible characteristics that you want people to feel when viewing your business's public elements, be it signs, logo, stores, or products. That is what you are creating when you create a brand.

For a good starting point, we can again look to other companies and what they communicate. As an exercise, look at products, advertisements, and advertising for other companies. Let's use Apple as an example. What do you feel with an Apple product? How do you feel when thinking about buying one? Think about the way that Apple's commercials, products, design, and Apple Stores all communicate a similar idea.

Or perhaps a better way to think about it is to think about Facebook pages. If your business were a person, what kind of Facebook profile would it have? What kind of picture would it have? Guzzling beer? In a business suit?

Communicating this personality is a far-reaching prospect. You'll need to combine your name with photos, colors, designs, and customer interaction that all are tailored to project the personality. I wish I could provide some quick tips for this part, but there are none. Simply experiment with various combinations and look everywhere for inspiration. Look at other brands, go to places that have the "feel" that you want and take in every bit of sensory data.

A brand is a gestalt, and you will need a mass of content to create that gestalt, so take it from wherever you can get it.

When going from idea to implementation.

Don't be cheap!: Once you have the logo done, you will still have to spend a good deal of money implementing that logo. You cannot skimp here! The best logo and branding work on Earth will look like crap if printed onto some vinyl poster.

Make sure that you bring your work to a company that can implement well. Expensive, illuminated signs; high-quality prints for posters and menus; excellent and well-mounted displays; business cards that are thick and impactful. These things are expensive, but they are worth the cost.

Remember, your logo and your brand build a connection with your customer based on their experience. So an average logo and brand can become great when connected with a great experience. Making sure that the way that the customer experiences your logo and brand is polished and attractive is actually more important that having a polished logo and brand design. Thus, while you should be concerned with making your logo and brand construction professional and attractive, don't spend time on that and then rush through getting it public. If you only have a limited amount of time, don't waste it on the design; spend it on the implementation.

Know what you want before you order it: You need to have a very defined plan of implementation for your logo and brand. Do you want banners? Posters? Business cards? A full website? If you have a store, decide in advance how you are going to lay out your store and where your brand elements will be presented. Where will you have posters, where will you have brochures, where will you have signs: in fact, actually draw a map and place everything in the map.

While I may have stressed your not being cheap in the previous point, that doesn't mean being foolhardy with your money. By drawing maps and deciding well in advance exactly what you want, you won't waste time making logos and images for things you never implement, and you won't waste money buying things you never use. Having and following a well-laid plan saves you in every way a business can be saved... just like how Jack saved Rose... I hated Titanic.

I would offer recommendations about which things you want produced, but it depends on your business. Are you a plumber with primarily a phone business? You won't need many banners and signs for your store front, but you will want a variety of brochures, business cards, and door-hangers to leave dangling in neighborhoods that you service. But if you are a florist, you will want TONS of signs, banners, and posters filled with glorious photos of your work.

Throw yourself out there: A branding effort is a great opportunity to do an advertising campaign. You're new. You're fresh. These things naturally help you foster a sense of curiosity among those in the area. Take full advantage of cheap advertising. Put fliers in mail boxes and under windshield wipers. Rent large, temporary signs. Do not get some guy to dress as Elmo or a giant chicken and stand outside and wave at traffic. Trust me. That has never helped anyone ever. It's better to have a great sign and brand.

If you have a company car, buy an autowrap. Autowraps are those large, full-body image wraps that you see on cars and trucks. There are companies in every state that do it, and while they are expensive — between two and three thousand dollars — they are worth it. Wherever you go, you are advertising. When you park your car, you are advertising. When your car is in front of your business, you have amplified your signage.

Remember, people expect companies of significance to have an extensive branding and advertising effort. By having a pukka brand and plastering it all over everything makes your business seem more "legitimate." Don't be subtle. Even if subtlety is part of your brand, you should be completely unsubtle with your subtlety. Be so damned subtle that it is absolute in your customers' faces. That's what high-end brands like Saks and Tiffany's do. They are bombastic with subtlety.

Throwing yourself out there, as it were, is also critical because it is the final step: promulgation. If you have good signage, people walking and driving by already know. But you want people from all over your area to know you exist. You may have the greatest widget company on Earth, but if people don't know about it, you will fail. Once you have spent all of your money on signs, brochures, and whatnot, you need to bring people in to see it. If you have the budget, you should consider even big things, like highway billboards, which usually rent in the neighborhood of $1-3,000 per month. People need to know that you exist.

Once they do, you become far more a master of your own destiny than someone who simply waits for customers to find her.

After it's all said and done.

A cowboy's work is never done, and neither is yours. Once you have your brand, your advertising, and your customers, you need to maintain an advertising presence. Why do you think companies like Bayer keep advertising even though everyone knows full well that Bayer exists? Because they need to keep their brand in people's minds. Then, when presented with the various options on the store shelf, their minds may default to the brand that they have seen. Just like Bayer, you need to keep your company in the mind of the public.

As time goes on, you'll find yourself wanting to tweak your brand. This is good! You need to keep your brand fresh, with new advertising, new types of images, and new bits of details to the company personality. Making this easier is that you will be able to watch your revenue based on when and how you advertise. You'll notice that when you paid for that billboard on the highway, sales went up 20%, but advertising in bus stops only sent you up 5%.

It would be pointless to try to cover all of the various types of data that you will be able to collect, but rest assured, if you are keeping a watchful eye, the data will simply jump off the page. And with it, you will be able to refine your brand and your advertising to maximum effect.

Why this is important.

The world is changing. Companies such as Wal-Mart have brought the hurt onto small retailers in ways never seen before. Even entrenched, large companies have fallen. The... moral is a good term... the moral reality of it changes depending on how you look at the situation, though. For example, Wal-Mart has been very bad for downtown areas and small retailers, but it has been fantastic for many people who benefit from the ability to buy things cheaply.

While I am referring directly to Wal-Mart for this example, it can apply to any massive company that has come in and dominated an industry to severe detriment of smaller companies. For example, Best Buy vs. Amazon.

Or similarly, Wal-Mart put many companies into the grave, but isn't that what capitalism is all about? The company that provides the most value wins? From this (annoyingly Fox News-ish) perspective, all Wal-Mart did was make manifest weaknesses that were always there and apply the economic pressure to force them out of business. Wal-Mart did nothing but cull the herd.

One of the most salient things that the Wal-Martification of America did was kill of the "mom & pop" business model. That business model was the one I mentioned a few paragraphs back, where a company opens up and waits for customers to come. When in a small economic environment, with local companies selling to local people, this worked fine. But once international companies started competing for the same customers, that business model collapsed.

But not entirely! Many of these companies are still here. What they have done is adapt many of the behaviors of the major corporations — behaviors like robust, attractive branding. The market has only changed, it hasn't gone away, and you must now be aware of the ways in which a company must behave to succeed. If things change again, as they likely will, you will simply have to change again as well.

Our world is one where the tempo of the dance is set by the biggest dancers. They clomp and thud about the dance floor, crushing those not nimble enough to get out of the way. Less than ideal, to be sure, but we at least know the tune. The music is being played loudly, for all to hear. And while small businesses must dance to this rhythm only, this is a fine thing. Because the goal isn't to liberate yourself from the beat; the goal is to be a better dancer.

Go break a leg.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Logo And A REAL Logo

When I was writing some page for something... somewhere, I created a simple comparison between a filler logo — the kind of logo that one buys out of a book at the Staples print center — and a real, designed logo intended to attract attention. I think that it is a pretty stark comparison, especially considering that the good logo only took no more than three hours of work.

This is not the logo that you want.

This IS the logo that you want.
Obviously, this is just a simple logo that could apply to any plumber. What I am actually selling is my time and my skills to express what you want expressed. The logo represents you, not my aesthetic direction at the moment of creation. We will go back and forth, discussing and working on your personality and brand together.

The point of this, aside from being a sales pitch, is to reveal just how marked a difference there is. You do not want to be the company that is fighting for the minds of the public with a substandard market presence. You want to be the company with a personality, any personality. Well, not any personality. You don't want the personality of a KKK member or some other such thing. But barring racism and violence, you need a personality. You need people to think of something intangible when they hear your brand. Playful, mature, wise, high-tech: these are the characteristics that you want people to feel.

And just as the best way to initially communicate something about yourself is your facial expression, so it is with the "face" of your company: your logo.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

HP Continues Its Plunge Into The Tenth Circle Of Hell

I just can't get over HP. The sheer magnitude of the incompetence is breathtaking. The only other company that comes to mind is General Motors, and we all know what happened with them.

At first, what with this being primarily a marketing and design website, the scope of this subject may appear to be a bit large. But this Wired article says it beautifully.
After years without a hit product, the company’s reputation may be irrevocably tarnished.

“Bright technology people don’t want to go there,” says Bickel. “If you’re coming out of college and you’re a really bright kid, why would you want to go there?”

Pressman isn’t quite so harsh, but he agrees that it’s still not clear what HP is going to do to attempt to correct its course. “It really feels that they’re strategically adrift and they’re not really committed to any one sector,” he says.
Marketing and management are very tightly integrated. A well-run company executes vision into product. That vision is either created in response to the market, and is thus directly associated with marketing, or comes from an internal wellspring which then needs marketing to package that vision into something digestible that the market can understand. HP failed miserably in regard to all of these elements. They lacked any vision, couldn't figure out what the market wanted, and had no brand identity aside from total ubiquity.

Truly, HP is shaping up to be the greatest failure of vision and marketing in the technology industry since, well, ever. The only other company in their industry that is collapsing in an even remotely similar way is Sony. To be fair, Sony provides more than just a comparison, but also evidence of something larger than HP.

HP and Sony, to say nothing of Sharp, Panasonic, Nokia, HTC, and any number of other companies who have seen their fortunes deflate with alarming speed, I think illustrates a sea change which we will only fully appreciate through the lens of history. And as history shows us, this has happened before.

Large companies are machines. They are built — sometimes through vision, sometimes through organic spontaneity — and much like a real machine made of gears and circuits, it will function as long as the world in which it works continues unchanged. But when the world changes, as happens with major technological or social shifts, we see the companies that are run well quickly separated from those that are not.

In this brave new world, Apple and Samsung are flying; HP and Sony are falling. They were likely just as terribly run a decade ago as they are now, the only difference being that the world is forcing this reality to be visible.

And in HP's case, the reality sucks. The Autonomy debacle has revealed more than we could have ever hoped to have learned about back-room problems. What's interesting is the intensity of the internal conflict. HP went from being a hardware company, to a services company, to a wannabe software company, and with the recent Autonomy write-down, is apparently back to being a hardware company. And with the failure of it all, people are getting thrown under the proverbial bus left and right.

I know that I so frequently hold up Apple as an example of what to do, but that's because so few other companies seem to know it. Apple didn't focus on hardware or software, they focused on experience. That was the unifying idea. Whatever was needed to create the experience is what Apple did. That sometimes meant hardware, it sometimes meant software. And it always meant accountability. Someone, somewhere, the buck stopped. We aren't seeing any of this out of HP.

Basically, much like General Motors and the infamous "GM Death Watch" that was started by the website The Truth About Cars, what we are seeing now was predicted long ago. It was seen coming by everyone but HP and its leaders. This trainwreck was inevitable.

You may be wondering why it seems that I am enjoying the spectacle of HP's Titantic sinking into the icy depths. It's because I am. I've had some amazingly bad experiences with HP products and service, costing me thousands of dollars, and am reveling in watching them fail with style.


HP’s Autonomy deal highlights pattern of bad ideas (Daily Herald)

Autonomy Founder: HP’s a Bunch of Lying Liars (Gizmodo)

Guy Responsible for HP’s Humiliating $11 Billion Autonomy Purchase: Don’t Look at Me! (Gizmodo)

HP Leadership Seen Lacking for Turnaround After Writedown (Bloomberg)

HP's Financial Mess Is Making Everyone Sorry (Business Week)

The HP Way, and How It Completely Screwed HP (Wired)

Surprise! HP discovers new internal disaster, takes $8.8B charge (Ars Technica)


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Underwear Ad Highlights Differences Between Male and Female Marketing

I've long been amazed at the divide in marketing to the sexes. Sometimes, this has a solid foundation in the zeitgeist, such as cosmetics companies trying to sell makeup to men without actually calling it makeup. Other times, though, the advertising is a shocking example of poor vision, sexism, and at times outright misogyny and misandry.

What the ad of the day shows is also how much marketers seem to think that men cannot deal with clothing problems in any way but irreverent comedy, whereas women need dour images of women looking sternly into the camera, or they need to be prancing through fields of wheat to symbolize freedom from periods.

While I prefer the former, the fact that both of these modes seem etched in stone, at least for the US market, is annoying. Women deal with bad smells and periods every day. Issues inherent to the human body do not need to addressed with glum reverence. Similarly, not all men think about the human body with a Beavis & Butthead-style laugh.

The ridiculous circumlocution inherent to women's advertising is perfectly represented in the fact that commercials for menstruation-related products always feature the standard blue liquid. They couldn't even use red? We know that it's blood. It's not like this is ancient Greece, where women are seen as impure because they menstruate.

We have an excellent counterpoint, and commentary, on this absurdity in a recent commercial that's made the rounds, and for good reason: it's excellent.

What a fantastic commercial. It recognizes that its customers are not idiotic caricatures of human beings. It recognizes that they are intelligent and, gasp, aware of the circumstances that cause them to want a product!

And that is the problem with this stereotype-driven marketing: it is insulting. No matter what the stereotype is, it is insulting. If commercials are to be believed, only women eat yogurt, children are all borderline-retarded, and men are so incompetent at all things home-related that they would burn down the house doing laundry.

Not only are these tropes insulting, they do not represent reality, and as such are fundamentally disconnected from the demographics to which they are trying to sell. Everyone is concerned with health, children are sometimes more competent than their parents, and a significant portion of men are the primary homemakers and don't like being called idiots.

The future of marketing, and thus the future of the companies to embrace it, are those that recognize that sometimes the horse comes before the cart. The advertising environment is reciprocal, and even if the different genders may initially be resistant to change, the very fact that a company is advertising using more progressive views legitimizes those progressive views, thus putting the company at the forefront of the dialog in their respective industry.

As a company, you not only want to be there, you need to be there. You need to be the entity directing the discussion, because that way you control the industry. Apple controls the cell phone industry because they control the dialog. That's why their keynotes are so damned important: it is them setting out what the dialog is going to be about. All of the other companies after that point are only responding.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Simple Brand Mark

A simple brand mark created for Hippo Studios. The old reel-to-reel tapes aren't much used anymore, but the image is still very recognizable. This mark is meant for small applications, such as graphical touches on business cards.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Brochure Project

This is a sampling of images that I created for a brochure for an online gaming company.

I had inititally created something much more subtle and monochrome than this image, which is what was more-or-less the implemented design. It's nice to have a client that fully communicates their desire, though, which means that you essentially become a tool to bring someone else's vision to fruition. This might not be as exciting as stretching your artistic muscle, but it's less stressful.

These are some of the initial page designs. The text was not implemented. The general philosophy behind it was to act as a counterpoint to all of the dark, masculine, and frankly rather scummy aesthetics of the rest of the online casino industry.

If you're ever stuck with trying to make a brochure more exciting, simply tilt the elements of the design. It throws stuff off-kilter and instantly adds energy.

This is just the back cover.

As is the case with many projects, many of the images I made, of which only a few are represented here, were not used in the end. That is one of my biggest points of advice for those either working or wanting to work in the industry: be prepared to have almost nothing you make actually implemented. It's not personal, even though it sometimes hurts.

Friday, October 5, 2012

HP's Long, Slow Descent Accelerates

Way back in the day, and by day, I mean about ten months ago, Moving Brands posted their re-branding effort with HP. It was taken down about a day later after HP protested the release of the information.

Basically, HP was upset because the brand was much better than their current brand, and the fact that they had chosen to not implement the brand made them look stupid. This was the companies official line:
"HP is one of the world’s most valuable brands and has no plans to adopt the new logo proposed by Moving Brands. HP did implement some of the other design elements shown in the case study."

My response to it is the same response I would have now, so I shall quote myself.
I laugh in their face. HP has one of the least valuable major brands. People attach little to the name aside from recognition and omnipresence. It is like ABC or CBS. Those brands have almost no value aside from their ubiquitousness. HP needs to stop kidding itself.
The slow-motion train wreck continued in the coming months, and I of course followed it. In May, HP announced awful financial results, and Meg Whitman said that HP was "rebuilding" credibility. This made no sense, because HP has one of the world's most valuable brands. More articles popped up analyzing what I described as the coming catastrophe.

As with many situations involving large companies, it can take awhile before the effects of bad organization and management become apparent. The Internet is accelerating things, but even then, it can take many years. As is the case with HP. Sadly for HP, since it takes so long, when the problems do become apparent, it is frequently too late. Look at GM and Chrysler. People had been saying they were doomed since at least the late 1990's. If it hadn't been for the world exploding in 2008, both GM and Chrysler would be gone.

So what does that do to HP's "valuable" brand? It's essentially dead, as I said back in December. It's just that, unlike then, they now know it.

Lenovo X1 Carbon Ad Hits a Triple

Lenovo is not exactly a company from which one expects to get earth-shattering advertising. But here they are, producing a fantastic little spot for their Macbook Air competitor, the Thinkpad X1 Carbon.

It reminds me a great deal of the legendary Motorola RAZR ad that launched the thin revolution in cell phones. It's unfortunate that no one has uploaded a higher-res version of this ad, because it's just that good.

The Motorola ad was perfect. There was literally nothing wrong with it. The Lenovo ad is almost perfect. Its only failing, and it is slight, is the presence of the Thinkpad logo in the middle of the ad.

Why is the branding there? No reason. It shouldn't be, because it's at the end in much grander and more effective fashion. Ham-fisted commercials have no style, no aesthetic, no class, and are quickly forgotten. Luckily, the damage from this is minimized because the logo transitions into the next shot wonderfully.

And do not even get me STARTED on the presence of that fucking Intel logo at the beginning. Do not double-brand! You are not selling Intel! You are selling Lenovo! People know that there's an Intel processor inside. There are only Intel processors in everything!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Valve Beating AMD To The Punch

After much denial, it appears that Valve has all but admitted to their making a dedicated video game system, generally referred to as the Steam Box.

This is a pretty big assumption on my part, since all that Valve has done is hire an industrial designer, but let me explain. Valve, specifically founder/president Gabe Newell, have been lamenting the state of video game technology for some time. They're not alone in this. Most people steeped in the world of digital entertainment are devoid of excitement for yet-another-Modern-Warfare and a new console that's exactly like the old console just with more bits (where are we with that, anyhow? 512-bit systems?). Truly, the curmudgeonly old hand complaining that games back in the day were significantly more interesting and fun has become a cliche.

Gabe Newell is smart enough to realize that this sort of complaining is the explicitly-stated surface to an implicitly-felt market force. Many people are uninterested in games, they just don't know enough to say it in such well-formed terms. The seminal success of the original Wii proves that people want something new. Valve knows this. They've said as much.

That means that they see a market opportunity. A big one. Dedicated gaming hardware will always be a market, and the better it is, the larger the market. So while Valve may be just interested in designing better forms of interface (keyboards, mice), I suspect that they wouldn't bother with such small-time stuff. I suspect that they would go full-throttle into something new.

And considering Valve's earlier experiments in game pricing, where cheap games sold orders of magnitude more than more expensive games, I think that Valve's true innovation would be the profit model. Sell the games cheaply, make money on the hardware. Because when you look at many of the games that are selling on Steam, most of them don't need cutting-edge hardware. I'm playing Torchlight 2 on a five-year-old laptop.

All of those variables combine to form one giant opportunity. AMD could still beat Steam to the starting line, but they had better work quickly.

Friday, August 24, 2012

New Microsoft Logo Interpretations

As I'm wont to do, I criticized Microsoft's new branding. So instead of just bashing them, I thought I'd post my own interpretations.

Their new logo is boring. It lacks energy. That's the problem with squares. They are rigid, upright, implying immobility. Microsoft is not a utility company. I don't think they want to communicate that. So, the first option is to simply shift the square into a rhombus. It's alive. It has energy. It has motion. Importantly, it's more than four squares arranged in a bigger square. The increased complexity adds personality. It makes the "face" more identifiable.

I think that the shifted square is closest to where they wanted to go. I am 100% sure that they experimented with this logo internally. Hell, it took me three minutes of playing around to create these different versions. It's puzzling as to why they didn't choose it. I think it's better.

The other logos are just me playing around, showing what I mean when I say "identifiable." All of those geometric arrangements are more unique, less commonplace. They have more character to them, allowing that shape to be associated with Microsoft. The four squares is so common, that even with a massive brand effort, I doubt that Microsoft will ever be able to associated the company with the shape.

Indeed, the blatant "unification" of the Metro interface with the overall brand is actually a bit ham-fisted. The sort of bland logo is in that sense simply a manifestation of a hodge-podge company, trying hard to create some sort of "unity" out of something that shouldn't be unified. Synergy is not a thing, gentlemen; it is a catchphrase used by those who don't actually understand business.

And just for fun, more new Microsoft logos.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Microsoft's New Logo And Branding Is... Good.

Microsoft has gone and done the unthinkable; they have released a new branding.

I can understand why they did it. While Microsoft's brand is far from bad — I would go so far as to say its mostly great — it's pretty staid. It hasn't been exciting in a very long time. I would blame that on product, but Microsoft actually has a fair amount of stuff that's pretty exciting. Windows 7 and Xbox are both very dynamic products.

I would say that the problem has been that Microsoft has been slow as hell in releasing those exciting products. The Xbox is six years old, and Windows 7 is only an OS. Microsoft doesn't release something shiny every year like Apple, nor do they have dozens of wacky public experiments in the wings like Google. The best they have are their accessories, the vast majority of which look like something for the "soccer mom" crowd or are soundly beaten both in style and functionality by Logitech and Apple.

Microsoft does have an ace in the hole, though, and that is its apparent dedication to finally getting into the hardware game. Microsoft has, in many ways, been hamstrung by its OEM's. Their aggressive price-cutting allowed the growth of the PC industry and allowed Windows to utterly dominate the computing world. Both were good things for Microsoft and for the consumer. Unfortunately, after years of price cutting, those same OEM's appeared to forget how to make, I dunno', good products. They turned into a low-quality boat anchor that was doing active harm to Microsoft's brand.

If they had been willing to make higher quality gear, this may not have been the case. But those companies, like so many other companies, were run by idiots. So after over a decade of sub-standard hardware being upstaged at every turn by the stuff that Apple makes, Microsoft has gotten tired of it. Their upcoming line of tablets looks great (frankly, I've felt that Microsoft should have been making a "reference" line of hardware for the past fifteen years).

Still, even though I am always about product over branding, I think that a branding change was a good idea. Microsoft, even in the younger minds of today, represents "old" tech. Apple I think is exempt from this because they crossed the rubicon of ruin in the 1990's, to be reborn in the early 2000's as a "new" company. Aside from Apple, Microsoft is much older than every one of its competitors.

Moreover, Microsoft's old logo, if taken on purely aesthetic terms, was old. All of the details of its creation scream 1990's PC world.

That said, I wish that Microsoft had gone with something a little less... corny. They want to inject unity into their brand, which is fine, but that unity should communicate something exciting. This brand is tearfully boring. They shouldn't simply copy Apple and go with the polished "futurey" look, but this branding looks like the design and colors used by an educational toy company.

I like the minimalist, flat look. I like the airy expression of colors and layout. I like that this logo is a bit more "friendly" and "approachable" than the old, more corporate logo. But it's still lacking any bite. Apple thrives on the feeling that people are living the future. Microsoft can't have that, nor does it want that. They want to be easy, reliable, and everday-tech. I think that they were going for that, for an "appliance" look, but were too timid to go all the way. Being an appliance is the antithesis of cool, but it is precisely what many people want.

I dunno'. Perhaps that's a strength of the brand. It's such a non-entity that Microsoft is hoping that people will inject their own interpretations of the brand into it once they interact with some of the new product coming out. Truly, this brand has very little in it. It's embodied in the three squares that rely on color for their differentiation (never a good idea). There is zilch in this identity that stands out.

A brand should be a "face" that is recognizable in the sea of other "faces." That means that the goal of a logo is to be an attractive, but most importantly unique face. Why did Paul Rand add circles to his Westinghouse logo? Because they made it look different. No other reason.

Microsoft is so huge, almost any brand can be well-implemented simply because of the company's ubiquitousness. But the brand needs to be unique. This brand is not unique. In fact, it's rather lost in the sea of other tech companies. Because of that, even though I know that Microsoft will make it work, I suspect that they will find themselves changing it in the not-too-distant future.


I have an issue with the design itself. Using primary or near-primary colors in straight lines on a display is always problematic because of sub-pixels. They make colors next to each other appear shifted. This is not something that you can only see if you look close. The image will look "off" even at ordinary viewing distances. The higher the resolution, the less this effect is seen, but the most popular resolution out there right now is 1280x800 (my resolution), and I saw it very easily. Obviously, a screen capture wouldn't work, so I took a photo with my camera so you can see the effect of which I talk. It's not elegant at all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The 1939 New York World's Fair Had An AMAZING Poster

The 1939 New York World's Fair is perhaps the World's Fair.

Oh sure, there were others. The very first fair, the 1851 London Great Exhibition was the start of it all and images from that fair continue to percolate in pop culture, most recently in the animated Japanese movie Steamboy. Perhaps the grandaddy of all pre-modern World's Fairs, the 1893 Chicago World's Fair outshone them all in sheer scope and grandeur. It and the 1933 Chicago fair were significant enough events to represent two of the four stars on the Chicago flag. More recently, the 1967 Montreal Fair saw fifty million people visit... when Canada's population was barely over twenty million.

The 1939 Fair, though, is the image that comes to mind when almost everyone thinks of the World's Fair. This was perhaps unavoidable since it straddled the line between the industrial age and the modern age. Gears and steam would give way to transistors and nuclear reactors. Telephones and electricity were becoming increasingly common, and the age of international travel was just getting off the ground. The old world became the new world; a large world became small; and this gives the NY fair an air of modernity that still rings true. More so than any event previous, this was the birth of the modern age — the baby's first breath.

The 1933 Chicago Fair had the Graf Zeppelin announcing the recent ascension of Hitler, much to the citiy's consternation. Then the 1936 Olympics happened under Hitler's watch in Berlin and featured the first live telecast.

They were all but previews — the quickening of a new world soon to be born.

The 1939 fair would open in peacetime, and close in the shadow of World War II, ushering in six years of utter destruction — the most cataclysmic redistribution of power and influence to ever happen. In that half decade, we gave birth to the future. A twisted, malformed baby, that has perhaps never grown terribly pretty, but birth it we did, and in grand fashion.

Aiding the NY Fair in its immortality was drama inherent in its creation. Perhaps the organizers saw history being made around them, or perhaps they just got lucky, because the NY Fair's entire theme was The Future-ture-ture-ture. Modern design, grand architecture bordering on caricature, impossible science, powerful nations butting heads, all seemingly jockeying for positions in history itself. Even the marketing of consumer products — an integral part of the fair's philosophy — that caused so much hand-wringing on the part of the scientists who were involved, predicts the era of extreme commercialism that would rise after the war and in which we live today. One can almost imagine the Apple pavilion.

Precisely because the fair was such a specific statement, it has a romance that lives to this day. The personality of the fair, as opposed to just concomitant events like the war, defined an era in a way that only the 1851 London Exhibition previously did. It was about aspiration, dreams, and pushing humanity to its limit. Happening as it did during a time of unprecedented social, political, and economic upheaval, it was always destined for greatness. It was epic.

It seems entirely apt that an epic fair would have an equally epic poster. Modern. Angular. Bold and visionary. The poster was 100% modern. There wasn't a hint of classical theory or perspective in its creation — just as with the fair itself. I have printed this poster and recreated this poster. Altered it, analyzed it, and augmented it. I love it.

And to wrap this whole thing up nicely, a video of film made during the fair, and then a video of modern activity at the remains of the fair, set to Aimee Mann's Fifty Years After The Fair, which is conveniently about New York fifty years after the 1939 fair.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Ad So Good That It Defies Description

This is one of the very best ads that I've ever seen. It is also a powerful reminder of the importance of real, quality journalism in an age of "article factory" websites that work for the sole aim of generating clicks. This is a case study in advertising with a purpose.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

AMD Radius Brand & Product Exploration

Awhile ago, I wrote out a lengthy proposal for AMD to make a video game system. I only included a rough logo in that post and thought that it was worth doing a deeper exploration of the idea.

The basic logo is toy-like and playful. It’s meant to NOT be “edgy” and “hard-core” because those repel the average consumer. This logo is appealing to all demographics. The offset circle still communicates the "circle" and "radius" concepts, but is more immediately interesting to the eye because of broken lines of flow and contour.

All boxes would initially feature games since we are trying to focus on the experience and not the technology underlying it. The image from the game Crysis is just a placeholder, and AMD-produced games, included for free with the system, would be pictured on the box cover. Boxes would not be uniform. Instead, a variety of boxes would produce an interesting mix of images, projecting dynamic entertainment while on the store shelf, all with the trademark Radius circles apparent on every box.

Using games as the primary packaging graphics further allows AMD to control the impression of Radius' personality to the market. Systems with certain box art could be sent to targeted stores. Gamestop's and local video game stores would get boxes with first-person shooters and RPG's on them. Wal-Mart's and other big-box retailers would get box art with cartoonish graphics, exercise games, and more otherwise casual games.

Eventually, as Radius expands, boxes would begin to feature more non-game material. The Radius would then become an entertainment box, which is precisely what Microsoft is so gracefully trying to do with their Xbox at this very moment. Microsoft's intransigence in this regard leaves AMD with a large opening.

Various icons would represent the technology that would be implementable by games. The headset is exactly that, a headset for communication. Accelerometers can be both included in controllers but also as standalone items in things like wristbands for exercise games.

The home game server is one of Radius' killer "apps." It is a plug'n'play box that wirelessly connects with any Radius enabled hardware in the area and automatically hosts games. It provides extensive networking and communication capabilities similar to Xbox Live, but locally. This will prevent the need for a specific Radius system to "host" the games being played. The hardware will include powerful antennas, providing far-reaching radio coverage for apartment buildings, dorms, and even areas of neighborhoods. The Game Server will double as an ordinary router for all local network applications. All of this provides greater control, and thus value, to the customer and raises the value of the hardware as opposed to the service.

The second feature is called Gamestream. This is when the Radius system connects with light "dumb" terminal game devices and stream full games to the user. The rendering takes place on the system. It depends on the game as to how many Gamestream devices can be connected at one time. The standard system will be able to connect only a few Gamestream devices at once, but when paired with the Home Server, the number of simultaneous clients jumps up. The end result is similar in network design to both the new Wii U and the Gaikai streaming game service.

Radius has an advantage over both of those alternatives. The Wii U will be a limited-use device. It will pale in comparison to the capabilities of the Radius. Gaikai, since all rendering of the games is done on a server in a galaxy far, far away, suffers unavoidably from lag. There must always be a delay between player input and what is seen on the screen. With the distance between the renderer (the system) and the user so much shorter in Radius, lag will be minimized to the point of being nearly unnoticeable.

The system can act like a virtual server, allowing people on multiple devices to play in the same game. Truly, the entire point of this is to shift the server away from the Internet, bringing gamers back into the same room as one another. Xbox Live shifted gamers away, with many games supporting multiplayer only over Xbox Live. The games actually prevent gamers from playing together. Radius will still have a significant online "cloud" that powers a number of services, but unlike its competitors, much of it will be dedicated to local groups and services.

Home theater PC’s are bulky and problematic. AMD can make one that is compact and easily integrates in with other bits of technology. AMD can also use the compact template to allow “stacking” of other Radius products, like the home server, file server, and Gamestream clients. This allows people to build Radius set ups, which is exactly what we want. The hardware is what we are selling, so get people to buy as much as possible. The game server and media server will succeed where things like Windows Home Server failed because it will be a “turn it on” solution. No set-up. Wireless communications detect all other Radius hardware in the area and automatically hook up.

The system itself would take advantage of every piece of technology at AMD's disposal. Their line of APU integrated processors practically cries out for this sort of application. The system would initially implement a physical drive, but this would eventually be eliminated from the standard. In general, to lower the price, increase reliability, and stay within AMD's zone of expertise, solid-state will be chosen over mechanical at every step.

The system designs will be neutral yet high-tech. Cases will be plastic, polycarbonate, and acrylic since radio communication is the critical element of the system. A beautiful but neutral design avoids the system being classified as a "video game" system exclusively or as a "toy." Multiple colors will also make integration into larger home theater arrangements easy.

Does the game box immitate other game box designs? Damn right it does. We want to put a great deal if distance between Radius and tradtional PC gaming. We want to give an impression of “it just works.” We can do that by copying the aesthetic of game companies.

A complete gaming and entertainment system, loaded with cheap and free content, with AMD hardware as the key to access it all.

A note on OUYA.

As I was writing this, the OUYA launched on Kickstarter to immediate success. Within days, it had raised five million dollars. OUYA sets out to do exactly what the Radius would do. There are some key differences though that make the OUYA a non-contender.

First, the OUYA is low-power. It relies on cell phone hardware, namely the Nvidia Tegra 3, and does not avail itself of the fact that it will be plugged in. The Radius will use full-power desktop hardware, giving it a massive performance advantage. This places the Radius in competition with dedicated gaming systems. The Tegra 3's performance lines up well with gaming hardware from ten years ago. Whereas AMD's line of APU's are in line with gaming hardware from five years ago or less. If AMD moves up the ladder to their more expensive processors, the graphics power of the Radius would be an order of magnitude greater than the OUYA.

The OUYA folks chose their cellphone hardware very much on purpose, even though it meant less power. They had to, because the OUYA runs on Android. This allows games to be sold through the Android marketplace. This is great for many Android gamers, not so great for the hilariously-fragmented Android ecosystem. Radius will be easy and unified.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Nexus Q Represents All That Is Wrong With Tech

Google announced two new Nexus products a few days ago: the Nexus Q media sphere and the Nexus tablet. The Nexus tablet redefines the tablet space and price structure in the same way that the Galaxy Nexus for $399 did for cell phones. It is a disruptive product at that price. It is brilliant.

The Nexus Q, though, is a nightmare of everything that is wrong in the tech world today. It is a product of a a team/company that never asked "how can we make this product the best it can be?" They only asked "how can we create something that links into our system?" Ever since Apple conquered the world on the strength of iTunes, every tech company on Earth has been trying to do the same thing.

The Nexus Q is not getting good reviews. The most common adjective that I can find is "confusing." One of the biggest complaints is the incredibly bizarre way that you have to get media onto the sphere. You can only  stream it from Google's services. You cannot put in a USB stick. No memory cards. You cannot connect to Hulu or Amazon Prime. And even that only applies to music. If you want video, it will only play video that can be rented or purchased from Google's Play store. Whatever you currently own is datata non grata as far as the Q is concerned.

Why the hell would Google do something so absurd? Because they don't care about it being a good product. As I said, they wanted something that connected with their services. If that just so happened to render the device awful, well, that's not their concern. It's the concern of the idiots stupid enough to buy it.

Google is not alone in this. Microsoft has been trying this shit for nearly a decade. Samsung, Nokia, Yahoo!: they're all guilty of this. It's because, somehow, they have forgotten how Apple succeeded. The iPod did not sell on the strength of iTunes. At the beginning, iTunes was nothing more than a bloated Winamp-wannabe. The iPod sold because Steve Jobs and his Apple horde famously said "MP3 players all suck. Let's make one that doesn't."

They specifically asked "how can we make the best product." And whether you think that they did or not, it's undeniable that they made a vastly superior product to the competition. If Google had asked this question, the Q would magically have all of the features that everyone thinks that it should have. Instead, it is vastly inferior to Boxee, Apple TV, Google TV, and Roku.

Many people are arguing that the product is in fact so bad, that it must presage grander plans on Google's part. That's fine. Perhaps that's true. But the product as it currently is, sucks. No one in their right mind would buy one. No sane company who asked the questions they should ask would release it as is. And even if they hadn't. Even if they did have grand plans, and even if the Q was better, it still wouldn't matter. The best product would have a USB port, a memory card port, and greater non-stream connectivity. Those aren't there, and no software upgrade will ever bring them. That is fundamentally broken.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Nearly Perfect TV Ad For Cracker Barrel.

One rarely sees a perfect television advertisement. Much like movies, the number of cooks who want to get involved with the broth almost universally causes failure. This is one ad where that did not happen. I don't like the voice of the narrator — she should be older — and there are a few too many words, but other than that, it is absolutely spot on. It's artistic, simple, textured, and loaded with visual imagery that evokes a sense of home, America, and nostalgia.

Too bad it's for a company that is both religiously-founded, anti-gay, and doing more than its fair part to make America fat. But still. The ad is great.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Less Is ALWAYS More

This goes out to everyone in advertising, marketing, and copywriting: if you can remove a word, do it. If you can remove a sentence, even better. A whole paragraph? You're work sucked to begin with, start over.

I specifically mention copywriters because they so frequently load advertisments and marketing materials up with words. I can scarcely describe how stupid that is. Words should be reduced to an absolute minimum. The art of copywriting manifests in carefully choosing impactful words that can have many layers of meaning. The art of copywriting does not manifest in writing a mini Wikipedia entry for your product.

Perhaps this predilection is because copywriters think that they need to produce LOTS of words to justify their paycheck. No. Anyone can produce tons of words. Good copywriters can produce almost none.

You can see the effects of this problem in companies that seem desperate to have slogans, and tag lines, and mottos, and other such crap. I mocked Panasonic's "Ideas For Life" slogan in an earlier post. What the hell does that even mean? It communicates nothing. Panasonic doesn't sell ideas. It sells freaking televisions.

Or Subaru: they have two slogans. They have "Confidence In Motion," which is matched in blandness only by LG's "Life's Good" slogan. They also have "Love... It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru." That's not bland, but it's long, ridiculous, and doesn't have anything to do with the Subaru brand. They attach this formless slogan that could apply to any company on Earth to commercials featuring... everything. Hipsters getting married, old people letting young people drive, assholes wandering around the woods to stare in dumbstruck awe at deer or trees or waterfalls or something.

There is no surprise that the majority of advertisements are forgotten the instant that they go off the air. There is nothing about the average ad that couldn't apply to any product. There are no unique elements. There is nothing to remember.

Go watch an average ad for a dish detergent. Replace that detergent with anything that is used for around the house. The commercial is identical. There is nothing bold or outstanding about any of the commercials. It's the same damned woman doing the same damned dance around the same damned house. Marketers seem to want to compensate for this complete lack of invention by just slapping on more marketing, more words.

Everything about a marketing presense should have as few words as possible. It can have lots of other things, though: images, sounds, concepts; these are all fine. Your marketing can be awash in these. It must still be focused, and your message must be tightly, finely tuned, and explicitly known and understood, but non-verbal impressions are a great way to draw people into the emotions of an ad.

Again, I look to Panasonic. "Ideas For Life" is a formless tangle of words that mean nothing. They communicate nothing about Panasonic, its products, or what the company actually does. It is awful. They need to get rid of it. But the images in their recent Eluga ad were fantastic. If only they had used nothing but those images, the ad may have had an impression. Instead, the ending communicates nothing more than corporate blah.

Considering the speed with which great advertisements rise to fame, one would assume that more ads would try to hew closely to this ideal. One would expect everyone to try to be the next Old Spice Guy or Apple 1984. But no. Instead they go in the opposite direction. They add layer upon layer of marketing, branding, and advertising until the core message is lost. They reduce the product to an inconsequentiality. They kill the product. It's no wonder that most people don't care about the products that they buy and instead rely on price as the primary determinant for purchasing.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

AMD Should Make A Video Game System

AMD is a manufacturer of processors. They're having a hard go of it. In most ways, Intel is absolutely dominating its smaller competitor. Not since the days of the Athlon FX line of processors (way back in 2006) has AMD managed to produce a chip that was truly competitive in comparison to the best that Intel had to offer.1 AMD is trying its best, and it's just not good enough. I have an idea, though, that may help.

One of the biggest issues facing AMD has been the stagnancy of the CPU market. There has been very little development on the overall model since the formation of the x86 standard way back in 1763. When no true innovation is taking place, it's very hard to unseat the dominant company, unless they do something exceedingly stupid. And unfortunately for AMD, Intel hasn't done anything exceedingly stupid.

AMD can compete in many other ways, though. They've demonstrated this with their recent so-called APU's, Fusion and Trinity, which are a CPU and graphics system integrated onto a single chip. These are proving both popular and extremely powerful, with graphics and battery performance easily exceeding anything that Intel is producing (although, the CPU performance is lagging Intel pretty badly). They innovated their way to success by avoiding direct competition with Intel.

There is another area that Intel is not only just ignoring, but ignoring like a champion: gaming. Intel's graphics chipsets have always been poor, and just as they produced the not-bad HD 4000 chipset, AMD's Fusion and Trinity chipsets raised the bar. AMD may be lagging Intel in general-purpose processors, but in graphics technology, AMD is, very seriously, multiple generations ahead of Intel. This is the obvious springboard from which they can innovate past Intel.

AMD, since they bought ATI, is the only one with significant experience in graphics architecture and implementation. ATI's chipsets, generation for generation, have been eking out a lead over rival Nvidia for the past couple of years. The Radeon name has a great deal of brand loyalty and recognition. AMD can leverage that experience and capability even more than the APU products. They need to bring significant, broader-market attention to their PC gaming hardware, and the best way to do this is to take control of the implementation of their hardware. They need to produce a complete package of products, and perhaps even the products themselves.

In essence, I think that AMD should make a video game system.


More precisely, I think that AMD should develop and promulgate a standard for the interconnectivity of peripherals, hardware, and software. AMD should become the steward for a new environment in which development takes place.

A Logo Proposal

I propose calling the new standard Radius. It's similar to the Radeon brand name, giving it a connection. It also uses the circle as a symbol, implying connection, completness, and gestalt. People access the system on the outside of the circle and follow the radius to its center.

While the Radius brand is necessarily close to Radeon, it is also far enough away so as to not scare those who aren't "in" with the video game world. This is critical. Nintendo got this very well with their Wii brand. It was neu-tech. It was Apple in its tech. They created an impression that was more experience-based. It's still very technical, but the wrapping isn't concerned with highlighting the technical aspects. AMD doesn't want the brand to appear to video gamey.

This avoids the connotations of that type of wrapping. Using edgy and extreme words communicate youthful masculinity. That's great for 17-year-old boys, but awful for absolutely everyone else, who, not being 17-year-old boys, realize that extreme stuff is incredibly lame.

That is perhaps one of Microsoft's biggest problems with getting the Xbox accepted by a larger hunk of the population: its name. It's just so damned childish. It has a goddamn X in it. Casting your market as badass because they use your product pushes away the bulk of the market. Using Radius makes the device and system more accessible to more people.

Radius is, by and large, a project of marketing and packaging. All that is needed is to take extant products and repackage them into innovative products. This is exactly what the Wii was. It was nothing more than a Gamecube with some extra bits attached and a new controller. AMD doesn't need to butt technological heads with Intel to win.


Now is the time to do this. We have more regular gamers than ever before. The Wii expanded the video game market to casual players, while the emergence of tablets and cell phones have put any-time gaming in the hands of millions of people who would otherwise have not thought about games. The massive success of games like Fruit Ninja, Cut The Rope, and Angry Birds represent the discovery of computer gaming by a massive, previously untapped market: a market that had been hitherto served only by crap like Bejeweled.2

Moreover, concomitantly with this rise in gaming, there has been a significant drop in innovation. Many people in the industry want to call social gaming like Farmville innovative, but this relies on a pretty broad usage of the term. What Farmville is had been around for well over a decade, and its only truly innovative elements were how it made money. It was semi-innovative on the business end, but total crap on the consumer end. That is not true innovation, since true innovation strives to give customers something new, not simply find ways to squeeze more money from them.3

This is not news. Many companies and people have been quite aware of this dearth of innovation in the technical sector.4 In the computer industry, they began a race to the bottom, lead by Dell, to commoditize the hell out of computers. This dropped the price, a good thing, but they lost sight on innovation and actual product development. They increased their value almost exclusively through price drops, just as we are seeing in new markets today.

In video games, companies have been following the exact same model for nearly forty years. The only innovation was Xbox Live, which isn't as groundbreaking as it seems. Computer games had been performing the same tasks for over a decade. Xbox Live simply applied that to the traditional system model. And even there, Microsoft wasn't first. Sega beat them to the punch with online connectivity with the Dreamcast's SegaNet, and pre-dated Xbox Live Arcade by nearly thirteen years with Sega Channel, and even that was predated by The PlayCable for the Intellivision in 1981.

Obviously, as illustrated by the Sega examples, innovation is only part of the equation. The more important part is the implementation of those innovative concepts. As such, the failed ideas of the past become the complete ideas of today. Xbox Live was predated, but it wasn't predated by success. That said, there must be true innovation at the root of these developments, whether successful or not, and without that innovation, the market will stagnate. We are seeing exactly that.

Even on the strength of the Wii and a resurgent Xbox, the industry is still on a precipitous decline. The major players remain intransigent. Giant publishers like Ubisoft and EA have been calling for new hardware for well over a year because, while the enormous, year-end games still sell $500 million in games in the first week, overall game sales are dropping. Market-wide, people are losing interest in traditional video games.

People still want to buy entertainment, though, so even with costs much higher than traditional video games, we are seeing growth in the PC gaming industry. There is no better time to combine the two into one, supreme gaming paradigm.


What do I mean by a new paradigm? I'll get to that. First, let's talk about profit. Basically, the profit models of both PC games and video games are at risk. Currently, both PC gaming and video gaming rely on the sale of data, which is a dying profit vector. Whether it is from piracy, digital distribution, cheap cell phone apps, or free games on the Internet, it is undeniable that profits available from direct sale of software are shrinking.

PC games are doubly problematic because they rely on players to spend a great deal of money on a computer with hardware that is good for nothing more than gaming, and this hardware can run well into the hundreds of dollars every couple of years. They then sell games to this small segment of the population for high prices.

The video game industry is even more unstable because it relies on what's called a razors and razor blades model. Basically, they sell the video game system at a loss and recoup those losses on games. This is no longer tenable since the razor blades in the modern world are now infinitely replicable, valueless "things" called games.

AMD isn't the only company out there that is trying to forge a new path. Services such as Gaikai and Steam are taking advantage, at least somewhat, of the possibilities inherent in large-bandwidth Internet access. They are still fundamentally the same as the current model, though, in that profit is had from the sale of software. Those are dying profits. That is a dying model.

AMD's new paradigm integrates both the video game model and the PC model. Like the PC model, players must pay full price for the hardware. Like the video game model, loss-leaders are produced to increase the value of other elements. But in the new model, the things that are given away are the games. AMD would become increasingly involved with game development, with both internal and externally sourced studios.

AMD would sell the games for small amounts of money to recoup costs, and then after the game has broken even, 100% of the revenue is plowed back into game development. This would provide ever-increasing value to the hardware, and as long as development is continuous and progressive, it would also provide constant value to new hardware.

Essentially, what AMD is doing is what Apple does with their products. They provide software and services for cheap, and make money on the hardware. That's why Apple fights so hard to keep music and app prices down. Apple doesn't care about the developers and record labels. Cheap software increases the value of the hardware, and that is what AMD will be selling.


AMD's package cannot simply be innovation in hardware. That will be the easiest part, certainly, but less than half of the equation. It's the software and services that will tie it all together, and these will be immensely difficult to implement well. Here, just as with the hardware, AMD stands a good chance at simply innovating past its competitors.

Companies like Nvidia are only beginning to understand the importance of the software that runs on, and increases the value of, their hardware.5 These services are all in their infancy, but they stand to completely revolutionize electronic gaming. We are seeing some threads of this revolution in streaming game services like the aforementioned Gaikai. In this model, the game is rendered by servers and then streamed to users over a broadband connection, kind of like an interactive video stream.

This isn't the direction that AMD wants to take since it's not a symbiotic model. It is not a combination of software and hardware, where the software increases the value of the hardware. If anything, the underlying sales model of this service is identical to current models in that a game is still sold.

Gaikai is indeed a significant development for the players, since they can play many games, any time, on many different devices. But the production end remains unchanged. The game is still rendered, on a desktop, somewhere. The end player only changes location.

Without denying the many possiblities in this new service, AMD can foster an even larger revolution by changing the cost and nature of the actual production. Because currently, playing cutting edge games requires a large expenditure by someone. If AMD can shift this reality into something cheaper and more diverse, they can rule the gaming world.

Similarly, moving the same model to different platforms doesn't count as innovation. Just because the iPad does away with physical media like CD's and DVD's, doesn't mean that it's anything more than a cheap computer. The end user still buys applications, installs them, and plays. Even the interface hasn't much advanced, with the finger more or less taking the place of the mouse.


People want to play games. The problem for many is that they don't want to have to tinker. They want to buy something and simply have it work. It's for a good reason that we have the long-running joke about stereo instructions. After awhile, many may want greater freedom, and the PC gaming world is ideal for that. Start in the safe harbor of the standard system, then sail out to wilder waters. And even for those who enter already liking to tinker, a standard will be of great value. It gives a central framework around which people and companies can operate, which is something the smaller, community-started projects simply can't do.

The conflict that AMD must avoid that other video game companies have not is that, in the creation of their standard, they lock out other products. Nintendo had reason to do this back in the 1980's with the creation of the NES, since one of the causes of the video game crash of 1983 was a glut of awful, buggy games. This also saw the creation of the "Nintendo Seal of Quality" in the North American market.

But even there, Nintendo's choice had as much to do with trying to control a mini-fiefdom as it did with actual quality control. Neither Japan nor Europe had seen a video game crash on the level of North America, and yet everyone was locked.

AMD must create structure, and that alone is enough.  They do not need to lock out others, since by virtue of their status as creator, they have power. They get to control the direction, tone, and dialog of the framework. Anyone can make stuff for the Radius framework, but to be a true member of the party, they need to go through AMD.

Game companies avoid this situation because, primarily, they are stupid, but also because this arrangement requires constant work and value development on the part of the lead company, to wit, AMD. If the lead company fails to provide the development and advancement demanded of a system that is following free-market drives, they will simply be replaced.

Unlike a traditional video game system, where a king simply rules by right, the system AMD would enter is more like a democracy. Fuck up, and they throw the bums out.

This requires more work, but it doesn't require a fight. As with every monarchy throughout history, a king must fight to maintain his crown. It's a sucky life. Just look at the endless wars with system modifications, emulators, piracy, and reverse engineering that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony are facing. Anyone who looks at the situation with fresh eyes realizes that it is a fruitless quest. AMD at least has the possibility for success, while the other three can never win.

AMD would also have a huge advantage in the fact that what they would be selling, while packaged and branded with games and entertainment, is still an ordinary computer. There is no risk in buying one from the consumer perspective. Contrast this with a video game system or a camera. If a consumer doesn't get ongoing support from the founding company, they're left in the lurch.6


The biggest problem with PC gaming is not cost, but the fact that there is no standard. There is no "Xbox brand" accessories, games, badges, and communities. There is no unifying framework, except for the operating system. People still need to understand certain technical things. Granted, many of these concepts aren't overly mysterious to people who grew up immersed in computers, but it still requires more knowledge than putting in a disk and pressing start.

Importantly, even though PC gaming costs more, it doesn't need to cost much more. Once the primary problem of no framework is eliminated, cheaper, lower-power computers will be more acceptable to large numbers of people and companies. AMD can repackage what they have and sell it at larger volumes for smaller margins.

For example, World of Warcraft is operating on an eight-year-old engine, and no one seems to care. Truly, its popularity is likely helped by the fact that it will work just fine on older systems.7 WoW's graphics are certainly far from contemporary, but the strength of the game and the massive user base, overcomes this issue.

This also overcomes the most salient issues from a producer's standpoint. A fragmented hardware base is a serious problem for game producers, just ask those who try to make games for Android phones and tablets. The fact that there is a large group of consumers with the same hardware, who have also been primed to think about gaming because of the branding, makes it a very tasty opportunity. That's why the App Store exploded in popularity with both consumers and producers in such a short time: standardized hardware.

With a standard, AMD wouldn't need to produce a gaming PC with cutting edge specs. The power isn't what's important, the knowledge that a large group of customers are operating with known specs is what's important for game developers. And even these lower-powered systems need not be horribly low-powered. As long as the hardware is specifically designed with games in mind, they can cut costs in many areas. This gives game developers much greater freedom than the admittedly large limitations on mobile gaming.

AMD can produce video cards that comply with the standard and then offer deeper levels of programming ability to give game developers the ability to "squeeze" more from the processors, just as they do in real gaming hardware. Many PC game developers want freedom from DirectX and OpenGL, and AMD can give it to them while also promising a large market to make the extra investment worth it.

Nvidia and ATi half-heartedly did this with their "The Way It's Meant To Be Played" and "ATi Certified" series of games, where some of the development costs were shouldered by the companies, netting them optimized titles that perform somewhat better on their hardware. While there were minor performance differences, these efforts were primarily marketing clap-trap that provided little actual value. They were all wrapping and no package.

While I am arguing that AMD can repackage what they have, that package must provide actual value.


The quality, integrity, and breadth of this new product/package/standard must be carefully planned and maintained from day-one. The size of AMD will immediately give credibility to the endeavor, which means that if AMD screws up at the outset, they risk losing control of their own standard. I think that they could always regain control, but it's best to not lose it at all.

To achieve this end, AMD will need these things accounted for at launch. NONE can be overlooked. Every hole in a popular, well-constructed system will be filled quickly by free-market forces. AMD does not want to leave any holes.
  1. Multiple types of graphics hardware conforming to the standard: cards, full systems, and APU's.
  2. Branded peripherals like controllers, joysticks, headsets, mice, and keyboards.
  3. An online ranking and social service similar to Xbox Live.
  4. An online store similar to the Apple App Store and Xbox Live Arcade.
  5. Development kits that allow even novice programmers to take full advantage of the processing power of AMD products.
  6. At least a dozen games that are optimized for the standard.
  7. At least three games that are exclusive to the standard.
  8. A desktop "client" application that turns any computer into a system, allowing connection of devices, services, and software. This will allow games that are not optimized for Radeon hardware to to be played on Nvidia hardware, increasing uptake of the overall standard.
  9. A large team of engineers working on optimizing games and software, even old software.
  10. A partnership with Gamestop.
  11. A primary website that centralizes and integrates all of these disparate elements.
1: The graphics hardware will be AMD's bread-and-butter profit generator. Graphics hardware goes through annual cycles, which means that an enormous profit reservoir can be built by wrapping that graphics hardware up in valuable games and services. Millions of people are already willing to spend hundreds of dollars on the graphics hardware today, imagine the sales potential in the future.

A varied selection of hardware is also important. Yes, millions of people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on graphics cards, but millions more aren't. AMD needs to engage those who have smaller budgets or simply value computer gaming less than the gamers. There will be limitations, since a certain amount of processing power is required to achieve the experience that AMD will be selling, but it is mission critical to get the hardware that is capable of delivering that experience to as low a price as possible.

2: The accessories are necessary for providing a tactile reality to the standard. People will interface with the software with these devices, and the devices must be branded to provide a sense of connection. People don't just go out and buy a controller, they buy a Radius controller. People don't just buy a keyboard, they buy a Radius keyboard. Accessory makers would undoubtedly be excited about getting on board with a project like this and would be willing to invest significant resources into the creation and marketing of products.8

3: While Radius will be marketed as a general entertainment device, the hard core gamers need to be won over. Xbox Live has shown that these gamers absolutely demand services attached to their games to allow them shoot each other. Similarly, the Radius Line service will give game developers the option to offload their server requirements to AMD, just as they do with Microsoft. But unlike Microsoft, AMD will not force the game developer to use their servers. This increases value both for the player and the programmer.

4: The Radius Store will be another profit generator since it will be integrated in with all Radius boxes. Much like the App Store, it will provide a large platform on which developers can sell their software and AMD can distribute their cheap games.

5: Perhaps this is obvious, but AMD will need to provide a robust development kit. To engage the community, the kit itself will not be sold. Services such as support, troubleshooting, and testing will be sold, but the kit will be free. This will engage the public and encourage small-time developers to become involved with Radius.

6: It's a game system, so games are pretty critical. There will be two types of games. The first type are those that have been optimized for Radius hardware. The developers made the game, it will play on any computer, but they have availed themselves of the Radius development kit to maximize the game performance and to take advantage of Radius hardware.

7: The second type of game are those designed to work exclusively with Radius hardware. These have been built with Radeon graphics and the control schemes are designed around Radius peripherals. These require Radius.

8: The desktop client allows any computer to turn into a Radius system. The client will come with Radius systems, and can be downloaded for free to other systems. If available, it will take advantage of Radeon hardware, and will allow users to connect Radius accessories to their extant computer.

9: Even though the community will be doing a lot of work to make games compatible and optimized, there must be a seed of activity. AMD will provide that seed in the form of programmers and community managers who are constantly releasing updates to the Radius client that allow older games to operate in an optimized state.

10: The biggest hurdle will be to get the market to look at Radius as a game system and to treat it as such. This can be helped along with a partnership with the largest game retailer in the country, Gamestop. With displays, games, and accessories all framed like it's meant for gaming, retail partnerships in general will go a long way toward speeding uptake.

11: The Internet is still going to be the primary marketing channel. This makes the website an important hub. A complete integration at launch is necessary to provide the seamless user experience that will make this project successful where other, more half-hearted projects failed.


Obviously, being a game system, it will need games. For this, AMD will become a major producer of cheap entertainment.

There are two types of games that AMD will produce, A- and B-Games. The A-Games are the flagships. They are the larger, multi-year, big-budget games in the same vein as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. Another term for these would be tentpole releases.

This term originated in Hollywood to describe a movie that "props up" a studio's other releases, thus the term tentpole. It propped up the other movies by being attached to those movies via contracts with the theaters. Basically, if a theater wanted the tentpole release, it had to buy the smaller movies as well. Thus, the tentpole movie would actually sell tickets to other movies.

The term is still used, but it no longer really means what it once did. Now, tentpole releases prop up a studio's finances, providing the bulk of its profit for a fiscal period. AMD will resurrect the original meaning of the term.

In the AMD system, the tentpole release will be the big game that everyone wants, but will only be available on Radius. It will get the marketing, it will get the media coverage, it will attract the attention. As it sucks people into the Radius system, it will foster the size of the market and the sales of other, smaller games, namely, the B-Games. The A-Game tentpole would thus prop up the other games and the system on the whole.

An A-Game would not be available at the launch of Radius. Quantity is more important than magnitude. These are the B-Games.

B-Games would be built by a dozen or more small teams of 20-30 developers, all creating distinct B-Games. These games would be fun, bright, playful, and deliver all of the action, adventure, romance, and novel thrills that are missing in the current video game world.9 Development time on games would no more than 18 months. Freed from concerns about a failed game, teams would always be toying around with new ideas. Innovation would be job-one.

A good, recent example of what these games would be is embodied in Torchlight II.

I use that game only because it is new. The number of games in the past that fulfill the requirements are numerous: Katamari Damacy, Guardian Heroes, Rock n' Roll Racing, Ooga Booga, Jet Grind Radio, Crazy Taxi, Braid, Oddworld, Rayman, The Sims... the list goes on.

The ultimate game that AMD will produce, likely requiring an outside developer, will be an MMO. This will be AMD's flagship. It will be built from the ground up to be expandable, updatable, and will receive constant attention. Every year, the game will receive graphic updates that will be available to those with the hardware that is capable of displaying them. Every year will see massive expansions to the world. Every year will see smaller games that tie in with the MMO.

Since AMD will be using this game primarily as a force to drive sales of its hardware, the Radius MMO will be the cheapest MMO on the market. Its price will be determined by server costs.

AMD can fully engage the community in this by preparing demo shows of possible games and having players vote on which games get made. AMD would integrate market research, player engagement, and sales all into one. Everyone in the development teams can present game ideas and display them to the public in AMD Developer community message boards. By keeping the dialog open, even during times where few games are being released, anticipation will remain high.


Since AMD will be selling a multi-use box, the processing power contained therein can be used for any task that the community wants. This is the real value of what AMD will be doing. By changing the nature, cost, and structure of processing hardware, AMD can create opportunities for new frontiers, many of which we haven't even imagined yet.

Most salient of these frontiers is the legendary set-top box. This is a concept that's been around for a hella' long time and has evolved from basic cable decoders in the 1980's, to integrated media computers in the 1990's and 2000's.

I describe the set-top box as legendary because it has never existed. Everyone who has tried has failed. None of these things worked because they all have tried to make money the same way that they always have. Thus, they started their businesses fighting the business model that is readily apparent based on the realities of the hardware, software, and data connections. The potential of the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii was blunted by this inherent problem. In fact, one of the most popular pieces of set-top box software out there is one that actively tricks the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 to get Internet content on them that should have been available in the first place.

This cognitive dissonance has been holding back these companies for nearly two decades. The most recent victim was Google TV, but that's only a single example. There are more, with many on sale today. Take a look at every other television-oriented computer product. All of them have been limited, filtered, blocked, and restricted.10 YouTube has videos of music, movies, and television blocked. Hulu isn't accessible. And Comcast is trying to get people to simply stop using the Internet. These companies are, with fingers in their ears, screaming "lalalala" as hard as they can in the desperate hope that this evil bugbear that is the Internet will go away.

It's not going away, and as the strict master death bids them dance, wanting them to hold hands, and to tread the dance in a long line, what the industry ignores is a valuable gold mine for a company willing to simply work around them. Microsoft could have done so with Windows Media Center edition and Home Theater PC's, but along with exorbitant costs, the system was fragmented and difficult to use. No surprise, they didn't exactly set the market on fire. But that doesn't mean that people don't want these products and services.

The closest that anyone has come to a successful set-top box is Apple with its Apple TV.11 This is of particular interest for this discussion since Apple follows a similar business model as I am proposing: cheap software, profit on the hardware. Apple has repeatedly referred to the Apple TV as a "hobby," indicating that it is of low importance. I suspect that this is because of a problem that many companies have, namely, if you make the perfect product, no one needs to buy another. And since Apple makes its money selling more hardware every year, a perfect product is a disaster.

Since the primary reason for this new system is video games, AMD doesn't have to worry about the possibility of accidentally creating a perfect product. Yes, the Radius will be the perfect media center from day-1, but it will immediately start to become obsolete for video games, and that will continue to drive sales.

Likewise, since AMD has no fears about trying to lock their products down, they are free to embrace everything that they can to increase the value of the hardware. The truly difficult part will be bringing these disparate products and services together under an easy-to-use banner. No one has yet done this, and with media companies making it very difficult, they have created a massive, multi-billion-dollar hole which AMD can exploit.

When the media companies realize how stupid they are being, this hole will close up quickly. But here, AMD will have a significant competitive advantage, being the only major player in the space with significant brand presence. Even though "piracy" will always be around, most people will want to get their media through easy-to-use, official channels, and they will be willing to pay for this. AMD will be able to sign a number of contracts for all of this content and ride its name recognition into a major stake in the market.

I want to stress that this is a bonus business on top of the gaming business. While the Wii, Xbox, and Boxee aren't the best devices possible, they are getting better as time goes on. Eventually, the market will be saturated with small, cheap, single-use boxes intended primarily for media consumption. AMD's Radius will be much more expensive than these boxes.


There will be two levels of hardware, and while this may be confusing to some customers, it is necessary because there are two distinct markets. The first level is the one that we have been hitherto discussing. This is oriented around delivering a package of value, but is mainly focused on delivering a gaming experience that can't be had elsewhere to a general demographic at an affordable price. This means that will necessarily be concessions in design, materials, and specifications.

This high-end, called S-Spec, will be based on AMD's newest hardware and will release annually with AMD's big graphics chip release. This will also be an opportunity to try out new motherboard chip designs, pipeline layouts, and anything else experimental that AMD would like to push out to market. The price point on this can be much higher than the standard Radius spec.

Having these two markets is not only important to avoid alienating high-end gamers, but also because those high-end gamers are critical to the evolution of the entire industry. The gaming world has been the genesis of many huge leaps in computer power over the past ten years. High end graphics hardware of today has the same processing power as multi-million-dollar supercomputers from the mid-1990's. Many of today's supercomputers, including the soon-to-be king, are powered by graphics processors.

AMD does not want its large, price-oriented market to have a negative effect on development and advancement in the niche market. Because work on the vanguard will sooner-or-later trickle down to the standard Radius spec, acting both as a halo product and also making sure that Radeon hardware is always competitive and cutting edge.

The S-Spec will not be advertised outside of serious "gamer" circles so as to avoid confusion in the general market. Outside of this small niche, AMD wants Radius to simply be Radius. S-Spec accessories will also be more expensive and more gamer-oriented. Controllers will be carbon fiber, keyboards will be in the vein of the Optimus Keyboard, and displays will be optimized for gaming.

The S-Spec community will also be where AMD will actively foster other companies and invest in the development of dedicated gaming gear. For example, multiple displays are common among extreme gamers and arcade machines.12 AMD can push the home experience further than it ever has on the strength of its name, and while it would be difficult to market this expensive equipment to the general market, the niche S-Spec market would be more receptive.


How would AMD earn money on this?
  • The entire system generates value around AMD's hardware. Profit would be had by simply selling more of their hardware and by being able to sell new hardware on the strength of the system.
  • AMD would control the software environment and platform. While anyone can develop an application and anyone can install them, to gain access to the AMD "store" would require buying access via a percentage of profit, similar to the App Store.
  • AMD would sell services to game developers in the form of quality control, testing, and access to the hardware developers and engineers for advanced optimization. AMD would become a part in the development of all major games.
  • AMD would control the online community and be able to sell access to particular elements of it that cost a significant amount to maintain.
  • The loss-leader games would be sold for small amounts of money. No more than $5. At costs that low, sales would be monstrous and even games with large budgets, greater than $25 million, would likely break even.

There is no other company on the market as ideal to push this new paradigm as AMD. They provide the graphics muscle for both the Xbox 360 and the Wii; they provided it for the Gamecube; and they are rumored to be the graphics of choice for the upcoming Wii U and Xbox 720 and Playstation 4. AMD has know-how that only Nvidia matches. But unlike AMD, Nvidia does not have the knowledge necessary to power everything in the system (the CPU, GPU, memory, chipset) and then push all of that with a massive marketing deployment. AMD is absolutely unique in this regard.

The companies that are currently clogging up this frontier are intransigent and stupid. They can be eliminated by a company that is willing to invest and work against them. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Tivo, and Apple try to work with them. Sometimes this works, as with Amazon Kindle and Apple iTunes, but most of the time, it doesn't. Instead of trying to coercively maneuver the existing companies into strategic positions, AMD can simply pummel them into submission.

The potential profits from this are immense. AMD would be truly foolish to pass up this opportunity. Moreover, AMD better movie quickly, otherwise Apple may just beat them to it.


1: It was a time of massive frustration for AMD fans, and just fans of balanced competition in the market. Instead of selling their chips at the discount that AMD had been using to equalize the cost-per-performance-unit on their previous generations of chips, they sold their Athlon FX at a premium. Instead of being both cheaper and faster than Intel, and thus increasing their value to an extreme point, they instead got greedy for ephemeral profits. After their peak in 2006, where they still lagged Intel, their market share has plunged to new annual lows. AMD also missed the mobile revolution, but that's not as awful as it seems, since Intel did the same. No, the problem was that AMD was, and is, losing in a direct battle with Intel.

2: Bejeweled has been on the market since 2001, over a decade. Angry Birds has been on the market for slightly over two years. Bejeweled has been downloaded 500 million times and sold 75 million copies. Angry Birds has been downloaded over one billion times and sold over 200 million copies. Numbers of that magnitude have nothing to do with quality; that is the unlocking of a new market.

3: That doesn't create new value, that simply finds ways to increase the monetization of extant value: the last resort of a dying company.

4: The president of Razer, the gaming accessory maker, specifically talks about this in their creation of a new type of laptop. A tiny company, doing the innovation that the big boys won't do. Where have we heard that before? Oh right, everywhere

5: Nvidia has recently launched VDI, their cloud graphics service, cloud gaming in the form of GRID, and specially optimized games for cell phones running Nvidia chips at TegraZone.

6: An excellent, and still salient for many, example is that of the Sega Dreamcast. The system launched to great fanfare, only to be bungled by Sega and shut down in 2001. And instead of opening the system and seeing if the system's legacy could live on, Sega shat all over its fans and simply discontinued everything. It is not at all surprising that Sega fell into the arms of Sammy Inc., and after stumbling along for over eight years, and actually turning some profits in a few of them, posted some stunning losses.

7: I recently installed and ran WoW on a $300, discount laptop. It wasn't terribly pretty, but it ran. I also went to Dell's website to spec out the cheapest computer that I could with discreet graphics hardware, the only requirement for gaming. First, they still make the Celeron processor? I thought those went out with the fauxhawk. My quest was completed with a $369 desktop with a Radeon HD 6450. Even with the crappy Celeron, that's enough to play many new games at medium detail settings. Upping it to a better processor costs $485. Or you could buy a graphics card capable of running almost anything for about $160.

8: Logitech invested tens of millions of dollars into Google TV, and everyone knew from the beginning that it was a terrible idea. In fact, AMD's initiative would manage to side-step much of the problem that Google TV had, since it would be a standard computer running a standard OS. This would prevent various companies like Hulu, Pandora, and YouTube from blocking media streams as they do for set-top boxes, cell phones, and tablets. Truly, AMD can be on the vanguard of forcing the old legacy companies to accept the realities of the Internet.

9: That of course doesn't mean that there aren't some super-inventive games being made. The problems for these are either the lack of marketing and distribution, or, as with so many games, a focus on male players, as with the immensely inventive Catherine. Even here, some games by sheer force of quality, overcome an uninterested publisher and retailer to become a cornerstone of a game publisher's arsenal, as with Katamari Damacy.

10: TiVO's constant battles with content providers have been legendary.

11: Boxee also deserves some recognition, and is doubly interesting for the purposes of this article. Boxee sprang from the development of Xbox Media Center, or XBMC, which was a project made specifically to side-step the limitations that Microsoft had placed on the original Xbox. Bill Gates is famous for having held up XBMC in a meeting and asking "how can we engage this group." Obviously, instead of engaging them, Microsoft ignored them. Here we have the community wanting something so badly, it actually managed to coalesce into a real product.

12: NEC tried this with their CRV43 ultrawide monitor, but it was priced so high as to be beyond the reach of even the hardest-core gamers.